Bay Area spare the air efforts applauded
By Matt Wynkoop, Bay City News Service
October 25, 2006
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is touting the 2006
Spare the Air program as a success for its role in keeping Bay
Area drivers off the road and pollution out of the air.
Spare the Air days are described as days when temperatures are
hot enough for ground level ozone to form, according to a district
On the first six Spare the Air days this year, more than $13
million was spent to reimburse Bay Area public transit operators
like Bay Area Rapid Transit, AC Transit and the San Francisco
Municipal Railway, which offered free rides. However, Bay Area
Air Quality Management District spokesman Aaron Richardson said,
it's informing Bay Area commuters that they can have an impact
on air quality that makes the most difference in the long run.
"The point of Spare the Air Days is to notify people of
the health hazards that are associated with air quality on these
specific days and how even the smallest decrease in emissions
can matter,'' Richardson said.
Richardson admits that while the effect of Spare the Air days
on air quality might not be as significant as some critics would
like, Spare the Air is also a "hearts and minds'' campaign.
"A big part of reducing emissions is to get people to change
plans to operate single occupant vehicles,'' he said. "If
people are given incentive to ride public transit -- like a free
ride -- it can go a long way toward swaying them away their vehicles
According to Richardson, 10 percent of 1,250 Bay Area residents
in a district commissioned telephone survey reported reducing
at least one trip in which they would have used an automobile
on a Spare the Air days, although it doesn't necessarily mean
that they used free transit.
Those numbers are up compared to results of the same survey in
recent years, which in 2003 found that 3 percent of people surveyed
had reduced their automobile trips. That was before the free-transit
element of Spare the Air days was introduced, the district reported.
Richardson said the free-transit offer kept more than 32 tons
of pollution out of the air, as measured mostly by transit agencies
that record changes in average miles of travel.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission reported a 15 percent
regional increase in transit ridership -- about 225,000 riders
-- during each of the free transit days, Richardson said.
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